Getting Started with Windows Server 2019
About 10 years ago, Microsoft adjusted its operating system release ideology so that the latest Windows Server operating system is always structured very similarly to the latest Windows client operating system. This has been the trend for some time now, with Server 2008 R2 closely reflecting Windows 7, Server 2012 feeling a lot like Windows 8, and many of the same usability features that came with the Windows 8.1 update are also included with Server 2012 R2. This, of course, carried over to Server 2016 as well—giving it the same look and feel as if you were logged into a Windows 10 workstation.
Now that we are all familiar and comfortable with the Windows 10 interface, we typically have no problems jumping right into the Server 2016 interface and giving it a test drive. Windows Server 2019 is once again no exception to this rule, except that the release of client-side operating systems has shifted a little bit. Now, instead of releasing new versions of Windows (11, 12, 13, and so on), we are, for the time being, simply sticking with Windows 10 and giving it sub-version numbers, indicative of the dates when that operating system was released. For example, Windows 10 version 1703 released around March of 2017. Windows 10 version 1709 was released in September of 2017. Then, we have had 1803 and 1809 as well—although 1809 was delayed a little and didn't release until somewhere closer to November, but that wasn't the original plan. The current plan is Windows OS releases every six months or so, but expecting IT departments to lift and shift all of their servers just for the purposes of moving to an OS that is six months newer is crazy; sometimes it takes longer than that just to plan a migration.
Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself a little, as we will be discussing versioning of Windows Server later in this chapter, during our Windows Server versions and licensing section. The point here is that Windows Server 2019 looks and feels like the latest version of the Windows client operating system that was released at about the same time—that OS being Windows 10 1809. Before we get started talking about the features of Windows Server, it is important to establish a baseline for usability and familiarity in the operating system itself before diving deeper into the technologies running under the hood.
Let's spend a few minutes exploring the new graphical interface and options that are available for finding your way around this latest release of Windows Server, with a view to covering the following topics in this chapter:
- The purpose of Windows Server
- It's getting cloudy out there
- Windows Server versions and licensing
- Overview of new and updated features
- Navigating the interface
- Using the newer Settings screen
- Task Manager
- Task View
The purpose of Windows Server
Is asking what the purpose of Windows Server a silly question? I don't think so. It's a good question to ponder, especially now that the definition for servers and server workloads is changing on a regular basis. The answer to this question for Windows clients is simpler. A Windows client machine is a requester, consumer, and contributor of data.
From where is this data being pushed and pulled? What enables the mechanisms and applications running on the client operating systems to interface with this data? What secures these users and their data? The answers to these questions reveal the purpose of servers in general. They house, protect, and serve up the data to be consumed by clients.
Everything revolves around data in business today. Our email, documents, databases, customer lists—everything that we need to do business well, is data. That data is critical to us. Servers are what we use to build the fabric upon which we trust our data to reside.
We traditionally think about servers using a client-server interface mentality. A user opens a program on their client computer, this program reaches out to a server in order to retrieve something, and the server responds as needed. This idea can be correctly applied to just about every transaction you may have with a server. When your domain-joined computer needs to authenticate you as a user, it reaches out to Active Directory on the server to validate your credentials and get an authentication token. When you need to contact a resource by name, your computer asks a DNS server how to get there. If you need to open a file, you ask the file server to send it your way.
Servers are designed to be the brains of our operation, and often by doing so transparently. In recent years, large strides have been taken to ensure resources are always available and accessible in ways that don't require training or a large effort on the part of our employees.
In most organizations, many different servers are needed in order to provide your workforce with the capabilities they require. Each service inside Windows Server is provided as, or as part of, a role. When you talk about needing new servers or configuring a new server for any particular task, what you are really referring to is the individual role or roles that are going to be configured on that server in order to get the work done. A server without any roles installed is useless, though depending on the chassis, can make an excellent paperweight. A 3U SAN device could weigh upwards of 100 pounds and keep your desk orderly even in the middle of a hurricane!
If you think of roles as the meat and potatoes of a server, then the next bit we will discuss is sort of like adding salt and pepper. Beyond the overhead roles you will install and configure on your servers, Windows also contains many features that can be installed, which sometimes stand alone, but more often complement specific roles in the operating system. Features may be something that complement and add functionality to the base operating system such as Telnet Client, or a feature may be added to a server in order to enhance an existing role, such as adding the Network Load Balancing feature to an already-equipped remote access or IIS server. The combination of roles and features inside Windows Server is what equips that piece of metal to do work.
This book will, quite obviously, focus on a Microsoft-centric infrastructure. In these environments, Windows Server operating system is king, and is prevalent across all facets of technology. There are alternatives to Windows Server, and different products which can provide some of the same functions to an organization, but it is quite rare to find a business environment anywhere that is running without some semblance of a Microsoft infrastructure.
Windows Server contains an incredible amount of technology, all wrapped up in one small installation disk. With Windows Server 2019, Microsoft has gotten us thinking out of the box about what it means to be a server in the first place, and comes with some exciting new capabilities that we will spend some time covering in these pages. Things such as PowerShell, Windows Admin Center, and Storage Spaces Direct are changing the way that we manage and size our computing environments; these are exciting times to be or to become a server administrator!
It's getting cloudy out there
There's this new term out there, you may have even heard of it...cloud. While the word "cloud" has certainly turned into a buzzword that is often misused and spoken of inappropriately, the idea of cloud infrastructure is an incredibly powerful one. A cloud fabric is one that revolves around virtual resources—virtual machines, virtual disks, and even virtual networks. Being plugged into the cloud typically enables things like the ability to spin up new servers on a whim, or even the ability for particular services themselves to increase or decrease their needed resources automatically, based on utilization.
Think of a simple e-commerce website where a consumer can go to order goods. Perhaps 75% of the year, they can operate this website on a single web server with limited resources, resulting in a fairly low cost of service. But, the other 25% of the year, maybe around the holiday seasons, utilization ramps way up, requiring much more computing power. Prior to cloud mentality, this would mean that the company would need to size their environment to fit the maximum requirements all the time, in case it was ever needed. They would be paying for more servers and much more computing power than was needed for the majority of the year. With a cloud fabric, giving the website the ability to increase or decrease the number of servers it has at its disposal as needed, the total cost of such a website or service can be drastically decreased. This is a major driving factor of cloud in business today.
Most of the time, when your neighbor Suzzi Knowitall talks to you about the cloud, she is simply talking about the internet. Well, more accurately she is talking about some service that she uses, which she connects to by using the internet. For example, Office 365, Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox—these are all public cloud resources, as they are storing your data in the cloud. In reality, your data is just sitting on servers which you access via the internet, but you can't see those servers and you don't have to administer and maintain those servers, which is why it feels like magic and is then referred to as the cloud.
To IT departments, the term "cloud" more often means one of the big three cloud hosting providers. Since this is a Microsoft-driven book, and since I truly feel this way anyway, Azure is top-notch in this category. Azure itself is another topic for another (or many other) book, but is a centralized cloud compute architecture that can host your data, your services, or even your entire network of servers.
Moving your datacenter to Azure enables you to stop worrying or caring about server hardware, replacing hard drives, and much more. Rather than purchasing servers, unboxing them, racking them, installing Windows on them, and then setting up the roles you want configured, you simply click a few buttons to spin up new virtual servers that can be resized at any time for growth. You then pay smaller op-ex costs for these servers—monthly or annual fees for running systems inside the cloud, rather than the big cap-ex costs for server hardware in the first place.
Other cloud providers with similar capabilities are numerous, but the big three are Azure, Amazon (AWS), and Google. As far as enterprise is concerned, Azure simply takes the cake and eats it too. I'm not sure that the others will ever be able to catch up with all of the changes and updates that Microsoft constantly makes to the Azure infrastructure.
While most people working in the IT sector these days have a pretty good understanding of what it means to be part of a cloud service, and many are indeed doing so today, a term which is being pushed into enterprises everywhere and is still many times misunderstood is private cloud. At first, I took this to be a silly marketing ploy, a gross misuse of the term "cloud" to try and appeal to those hooked by buzzwords. Boy was I wrong. In the early days of private clouds, the technology wasn't quite ready to stand up to what was being advertised.
Today, however, that story has changed. It is now entirely possible to take the same fabric that is running up in the true, public cloud, and install that fabric right inside your data center. This enables you to provide your company with cloud benefits such as the ability to spin resources up and down, and to run everything virtualized, and to implement all of the neat tips and tricks of cloud environments, with all of the serving power and data storage remaining locally owned and secured by you. Trusting cloud storage companies to keep data safe and secure is absolutely one of the biggest blockers to implementation on the true public cloud, but, by installing your own private cloud, you get the best of both worlds, specifically stretchable compute environments with the security of knowing you still control and own all of your own data.
This is not a book about clouds, public or private. I mention this to give a baseline for some of the items we will discuss in later chapters, and also to get your mouth watering a little bit to dig in and do a little reading yourself on cloud technology. You will see Windows Server 2019 interface in many new ways with the cloud, and will notice that so many of the underlying systems available in Server 2019 are similar to, if not the same as, those becoming available inside Microsoft Azure.
In these pages, we will not focus on the capabilities of Azure, but rather a more traditional sense of Windows Server that would be utilized on-premise. With the big push toward cloud technologies, it's easy to get caught with blinders on and think that everything and everyone is quickly running to the cloud for all of their technology needs, but it simply isn't true. Most companies will have the need for many on-premise servers for many years to come; in fact, many may never put full trust in the cloud and will forever maintain their own data centers. These data centers will have local servers that will require server administrators to manage them. That is where you come in.
Windows Server versions and licensing
Anyone who has worked with the design or installation of a Windows Server in recent years is probably wondering which direction we are taking within this book. You see, there are different capability editions, different technical versions, plus different licensing models of Windows Server. Let's take a few minutes to cover those differences so that you can have a well-rounded knowledge of the different options, and so that we can define which portions we plan to discuss over the course of this book.
Standard versus Datacenter
When installing the Windows Server 2019 operating system onto a piece of hardware, as you will experience in Chapter 2, Installing and Managing Windows Server 2019, you will have two different choices on server capability. The first is Server 2019 Standard, which is the default option and one that includes most of your traditional Windows Server roles. While I cannot give you details on pricing because that could potentially be different for every company depending on your agreements with Microsoft, Standard is the cheaper option and is used most commonly for installations of Windows Server 2019.
Datacenter, on the other hand, is the luxury model. There are some roles and features within Windows Server 2019 that only work with the Datacenter version of the operating system, and they are not available inside Standard. If ever you are looking to a new piece of Microsoft technology to serve a purpose in your environment, make sure to check over the requirements to find out whether you will have to build a Datacenter server. Keep in mind that Datacenter can cost significantly more money than Standard, so you generally only use it in places where it is actually required. For example, if you are interested in hosting Shielded VMs or working with Storage Spaces Direct, you will be required to run the Server 2019 Datacenter edition on the servers related to those technologies.
One of the biggest functional differences between Standard and Datacenter is the number of virtual machines (VMs) that they can host. Server 2019 Standard can only run two VMs on it at any given time, which is a pretty limiting factor if you were looking to build out a Hyper-V server. Datacenter allows you to run unlimited numbers of VMs, which makes it a no-brainer when building your virtualization host servers. For running Hyper-V, Datacenter is the way to go.
Desktop Experience/Server Core/Nano Server
Next up are the different footprints and user interfaces that you can run on your Windows Server 2019 machines. There are three different versions of Windows Server that can be used, and the correct one for you depends on what capabilities and security you are looking for.
This is the most common choice among Windows Servers everywhere. Whether you are building a Windows Server 2019 Standard or Datacenter, you have a choice of running Server with or without a graphical user interface. The traditional look and feel, point-and-click interface is called Desktop Experience. This allows things such as RDPing into your servers, having a traditional desktop, being able to use the graphical Server Manager right from your logged-in server, and all in all is the best way to go if you are new to server administration.
If you are familiar with navigating around inside Windows 10, then you should be able to at least make your way around in Windows Server 2019 running Desktop Experience. This is the version of Windows Server 2019 that we will be focusing on for the majority of this book, and almost all of the screenshots will be taken from within a Desktop Experience environment.
As you will see when we install Windows Server 2019 together, the default option for installation is not Desktop Experience. What this means is that choosing the default install path would instead place a headless version of Windows Server onto your machine, most commonly referred to as Server Core. The nature of being headless makes Server Core faster and more efficient than Desktop Version, which makes sense because it doesn't have to run all of that extra code and consume all of those extra resources for launching and displaying a huge graphical interface.
Almost anything that you want to do within Windows Server is possible to do on either Server Core or Desktop Experience, the main differences being interface and security. To be able to use Server Core, you definitely have to be comfortable with a command-line interface (namely PowerShell), and you also have to consider remote server management to be a reliable way of interacting with your servers. We will talk much more about Server Core in Chapter 8, Server Core.
The largest benefit that Server Core brings to the table, other than performance, is security. Most malware that attempts to attack Windows Servers is reliant upon items that exist inside the GUI of Desktop Experience. Since those things aren't even running inside Server Core—alas, you couldn't get to a desktop even if you wanted to—attacks against Server Core machines are much, much less successful.
A third platform for Windows Server 2019 does exist, known as Nano Server. This is a tiny version of Windows Server, headless like Server Core but running an even smaller footprint. The last time I booted up a Nano Server, it consumed less than 500 MB of data for the complete operating system, which is incredible.
It seemed like Nano Server was discussed much more surrounding the release of Server 2016, because at that time Microsoft was pressing forward with plans to include a whole bunch of roles inside Nano Server so that we could start replacing some of our bloated, oversized everyday servers with Nano, but that mentality has since gone by the wayside.
As of this writing, Nano Server is pretty well married to the use of containers. In fact, I believe the only supported way to run Nano Server right now is to run it as an image inside a container. We will discuss both in more detail inside Chapter 11, Containers and Nano Server, but, for the purposes of this summary, it is safe to say that, if you know what containers are, and are interested in using them, then you will benefit from learning all there is to know about Nano Server. If you are not in a position to work with containers, you will probably never run into Nano Server in your environment.
Licensing models - SAC and LTSC
Another decision about how to set up your Windows Servers is what licensing/support model and release cadence you would like to follow. There are two different paths that you can take. It is possible to have a mix of these in a single environment, if you have need for both.
Semi-Annual Channel (SAC)
If you opt to run SAC releases of Windows Server, your naming convention for the operating system changes. Rather than calling it Server 2019, you are really running Windows Server 1803, 1809, and so on. It follows the same mentality that Windows 10 does. What that implies is that these new versions of Windows Server SAC are released at much shorter intervals than we have ever seen for servers in the past. The SAC channel is planned to receive two major releases every year—generally in the spring and the fall. Because of the fast release cadence, support for SAC versions of Windows Server lasts for a short 18 months. If you use SAC, you had better get used to always jumping on the latest version shortly after it releases.
If swapping out your server operating systems twice a year sounds daunting, you're not alone. Thankfully, Microsoft recognizes this and realizes that the general server administrator population is not going to use this model for their regular, everyday servers. Rather, SAC-versions of Windows Server are really only going to be used for running containers. In this new world of flexible application hosting, where applications are being written in ways that the infrastructure resources behind those applications can be spun up or spun down as needed, containers are a very important piece of that DevOps puzzle. If you host or build these kinds of applications, you will almost certainly be using containers—now or in the future. When you find yourself in the position of researching and figuring out containers, you will then probably find that the best way to accomplish a highly-performant container environment is by hosting it on SAC server releases.
Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC)
Some of you probably think that LTSC is a typo, as in previous years this model was called Long-Term Servicing Branch (LTSB). While you can go with either and people will generally know what you are talking about, LTSC is now the proper term.
Windows Server 2019 is an LTSC release. Essentially, LTSC releases are what we have always thought of as our traditional Windows Server operating system releases. Server 2008, Server 2008 R2, Server 2012, Server 2012 R2, Server 2016, and now Server 2019 are all LTSC releases. What has changed is that the LTSC releases will now be coming with fewer things that are wow, that's so awesome and brand-new, because we will be seeing and getting hints about those brand new things as they are created and rolled out in a more short-term fashion through the SAC releases. So, your SAC releases will come out roughly every six months, and then every two to three years we will experience a new LTSC release that rolls up all of those changes.
While SAC is generally all about DevOps and containers, LTSC servers are for running pretty much everything else. You wouldn't want to install a domain controller, certificate server, or file server and have to replace that server every six months. So, for any of these scenarios, you will always look to LTSC.
One other major difference between the two is that, if you want to use the Desktop Experience version of Windows Server (having a graphical interface to interact with)—then you're looking at LTSC. The SAC versions of Windows Server do NOT include Desktop Experience—you are limited to only Server Core or Nano Server.
With LTSC versions of Windows Server, you continue to get the same support we are used to: five years of mainstream support followed by five years of available extended support.
Throughout this book, we will be working and gaining experience with Windows Server 2019 - LTSC release.
Overview of new and updated features
The newest version of the Windows Server operating system is always an evolution of its predecessor. There are certainly pieces of technology contained inside that are brand new, but there are even more places where existing technologies have been updated to include new features and functionality. Let's spend a few minutes providing an overview of some of the new capabilities that exist in Windows Server 2019.
The Windows 10 experience continued
Historically, a new release of any Microsoft operating system has meant learning a new user interface, but Server 2019 is the first exception to this rule. Windows 10's release gave us the first look at the current graphical platform, which then rolled into Windows Server 2016, and that was the first time we had seen the current interface on a server platform. Now that Windows 10 updates are releasing but continuing on with essentially the same desktop interface, the same is true for Server 2019. Logging in and using Windows Server 2019 is, in a lot of ways, the same experience that you have had inside Windows Server 2016. Even so, some reading this book have never experienced logging into a server of any kind before, and so we will certainly be looking over that interface, and learning some tips and tricks for navigating around smoothly and efficiently within Server 2019.
When you see the phrase Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI), it is important to understand that we are not talking about a specific technology that exists within your server environment. Rather, HCI is a culmination of a number of different technologies that can work together and be managed together, all for the purposes of creating the mentality of a Software-Defined Datacenter (SDDC as it is sometimes referred to). Specifically, HCI is most often referred to as the combination of Hyper-V and Storage Spaces Direct (S2D) on the same cluster of servers. Clustering these services together enables some big speed and reliability benefits over hosting these roles separately, and on their own systems.
Another component that is part of, or related to, a software-defined data center is Software Defined Networking (SDN). Similar to how compute virtualization platforms (like Hyper-V) completely changed the landscape of what server computing looked like ten or so years ago, we are now finding ourselves capable of lifting the network layer away from physical hardware, and shifting the design and administration of our networks to be virtual, and managed by Windows Server platform.
A newly available tool that helps configure, manage, and maintain clusters as well as HCI clusters is the new Windows Admin Center (WAC). WAC can be a hub from which to interface with your Hyper-Converged Infrastructure.
Windows Admin Center
Finally releasing in an official capacity, WAC is one of the coolest things I've seen yet as part of the Server 2019 release. This is a free tool, available to anyone, that you can use to start centrally managing your server infrastructure. While not fully capable of replacing all of the traditional PowerShell, RDP, and MMC console administration tools, it enables you to do a lot of normal everyday tasks with your servers, all from a single interface.
If this capability sounds at all familiar to you, it may be because you tested something called Project Honolulu at some point over the past year. Yes, Windows Admin Center is Project Honolulu, now in full production capacity.
We will take a closer look at the Windows Admin Center in Chapter 2, Installing and Managing Windows Server 2019.
Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection
If you haven't done any reading on Advanced Threat Protection (ATP), you may see the words Windows Defender and assume I am simply talking about the antivirus/anti-malware capabilities that are now built into both Windows client operating systems, as well as Windows Servers starting with 2016. While it is true that Windows Server 2019 does come out of the box with built-in antivirus, the ATP service is much, much more.
We'll discuss it in more depth in Chapter 7, Hardening and Security, but the short summary is that Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection is a cloud-based service that you tap your machines into. The power of ATP is that many thousands, or perhaps even millions, of devices are submitting data and creating an enormous information store that can then be used with some AI and machine learning to generate comprehensive data about new threats, viruses, and intrusions, in real time. ATP customers then receive the benefits of protection as those new threats arise. It's almost like crowd-sourced anti-threat capabilities, with Azure handling all of the backend processing.
Active Directory has stored all of our user account information, including passwords, for many years. The last few releases of Windows Server operating system have not included many updates or new features within AD, but Microsoft is now working with many customers inside their cloud-based Azure AD environment, and new features are always being worked on in the cloud. Banned Passwords is one of those things. Natively an Azure AD capability, it can now be synchronized back to your on-premise domain controller servers, giving you the ability to create a list of passwords that cannot be used in any fashion by your users. For example, the word password. By banning password as a password, you effectively ban any password that includes the word password. For example, P@ssword, Password123!, or anything else of similar bearing.
The ability to perform a soft restart was actually new with Server 2016, but it had to be manually added into Server 2016 and I don't think anybody really ever started using it. In the past three years, I have never seen a single person initiate a soft restart, so I assume it is not well-known and I will include it here in our list of features. In an effort to speed up reboots, there is an optional reboot switch called soft restart, which is now included automatically inside Server 2019. So, what is a soft restart? It is a restart without hardware initialization.
In other words, it restarts the operating system without restarting the whole machine. It is invoked during a restart by adding a special switch to the shutdown command. Interestingly, in Server 2016 you could also invoke a soft restart with the Restart-Computer cmdlet in PowerShell, but that option seems to have fallen away in Server 2019. So, if you want to speed up your reboots, you'll have to turn back to good old Command Prompt, as seen in the following:
- Note the following using the shutdown command:
shutdown /r /soft /t 0
Here /r is for restart, /soft is for soft restart, and /t 0 is for zero seconds until reboot initiates.
Integration with Linux
Heresy! Under whose authority did I type the word Linux inside a book about Windows Server?! Historically, corporate computing environments have run Windows, or they have run Linux, or maybe they have run both but with a very clear separation between the two. Windows Server 2019 blurs that line of separation. We now have the ability to run Linux VMs within our Microsoft Hyper-V, and to even be able to interface with them properly. Did you know some Linux operating systems actually know how to interact with a mouse? Before now, you didn't have much chance of that when trying to run a Linux-based VM on top of a Windows Server, but we now have some compatibility implemented in Hyper-V.
Linux-based containers can also be run on top of Server 2019, which is a big deal for anyone looking to implement scaling applications via containers.
You can even protect your Linux virtual machines by encrypting them, through the use of Shielded Virtual Machines!
Enhanced Shielded Virtual Machines
So many companies are running a majority of their servers as virtual machines today. One of the big problems with this is that there are some inherent security loopholes that exist in the virtualization host platforms of today. One of those holes is backdoor access to the hard disk files of your virtual machines. It is quite easy for anyone with administrative rights on the virtual host to be able to see, modify, or break any virtual machine that is running within that host. And, these modifications can be made in almost untraceable ways. Take a look inside Chapter 12, Virtualizing Your Data Center with Hyper-V, to learn how the new capability to create Shielded Virtual Machines closes up this security hole by implementing full disk encryption on those VHD files.
Server 2019 brings some specific benefits to the Shielded VM world: we can now protect both Windows-based and Linux-based virtual machines by shielding them, and we are no longer so reliant on communication with the Host Guardian Service when trying to boot protected VMs from our Guarded Host servers. We will discuss this further in Chapter 12, Virtualizing Your Data Center with Hyper-V.
Azure Network Adapter
Hybrid Cloud—isn't it great when you can take two separate buzzwords, and combine them to make an even larger and more powerful buzzword? Hybrid Cloud is the thing of CIO's dreams. I hope you know I am jesting on this; the idea of hybrid cloud is incredibly powerful and is the bridge which is making cloud utilization possible. We can have both on-premise servers, and servers hosted in Azure, and make it all one big happy network where you can access any resource from anywhere.
Now, there are already a myriad of technologies that allow you to tap your local network into your Azure network—namely site-to-site VPNs and Azure Express Route. However another option never hurts, especially for small companies that don't want the complexity of building a site-to-site VPN, nor the cost of Express Route.
Enter the Azure Network Adapter. This new capability allows you to very quickly and easily add a virtual network adapter to a Windows Server (even one as far back as 2012 R2), and then connect that virtual NIC straight to your Azure network! Windows Admin Center is required for this transaction to take place; we will take a closer look in Chapter 5, Networking with Windows Server 2019.
Always On VPN
Users hate launching VPN connections. I know this because I hear that kind of feedback every day. Having to manually make a connection to their work network is wasting time that they could otherwise spend doing actual work. In Chapter 6, Enabling Your Mobile Workforce, we will discuss the different remote access technologies available inside Windows Server 2019. There are actually two different technologies that allow for a fully automatic connection back to the corporate network, where the users don't have to take any manual action to enact those connections. One of those technologies is DirectAccess and has been around since Server 2008 R2. We will detail DirectAccess because it is still a viable and popular connectivity option, and we will also cover the newest version of automated remote connectivity—Always On VPN.
Navigating the interface
Unfortunately, Microsoft turned a lot of people off with the introduction of Windows 8 and Server 2012, not because functionality or reliability was lacking, but because the interface was so vastly different than it had been before. It was almost like running two separate operating systems at the same time. You had the normal desktop experience, in which all of us spent 99.9% of our time, but then there were also those few moments where you found yourself needing to visit the full page Start menu. More likely, you stumbled into it without wanting to. However you ended up there, inside that fullscreen tablet-like interface, for the remaining 0.01% of your Server 2012 experience you were left confused, disturbed, and wishing you were back in the traditional desktop. I am, of course, speaking purely from experience here. There may be variations in your personal percentages of time spent, but, based on the conversations I have been involved with, I am not alone in these views. And, I haven't even mentioned the magical self-appearing Charms bar. Some bad memories are better left in the recesses of the brain.
The major update of Windows 8.1 and Server 2012 R2 came with welcome relief to these symptoms. There was an actual Start button in the corner again, and you could choose to boot primarily into the normal desktop mode. However, should you ever have the need to click on that Start button, you found yourself right back in the full page Start screen, which I still find almost all server admins trying their best to avoid at all costs.
Well, it turns out that Microsoft listened and brought some much-needed relief in Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016. While not quite back to the traditional Start menu that existed back in 2008, we have a good mix of both old ways and new ways of launching the tools that we need to access on our server platforms.
As far as the graphical interface goes, Windows Server 2019 is mostly unchanged from Server 2016, because we have not seen a major interface update on the client operating system. As you already know, each new version of Windows Server has received updates to the point-and-click interface based on what the latest Windows client operating system is at the time, and this is the first time in many years that a new server operating system has been released while the client operating system is still hanging out on the same version—Windows 10. If you are comfortable navigating around in Windows 10, you will be well-suited to Windows Server 2019.
For anyone who is new to working within Windows, or is just looking for some tips and tricks to get you rolling, this section is for you.
The updated Start menu
As sub-versions of Windows 10 have been released, there have been small ongoing changes to the Start menu. All in all, I consider many of the changes to be backpedalling from the Windows 8 fiasco. We are now back to a real Start button that launches a real Start menu, one that doesn't take over the entire desktop. To be honest, personally I almost never open the Start menu at all, other than to search for the application or feature that I want. We will cover more on that very soon. However, when I do open up the Start menu and look at it, there are a few nice things that stand out.
- All of the applications installed on the server are listed here, in alphabetical order. This is very useful for launching an application, or for doing a quick check to find out whether or not a particular app or feature is installed on your server.
- The left side of the Start menu includes a few buttons for quick access to items. Probably the most useful buttons here are power controls for shutting down or restarting the server, and the Settings gear that launches system settings.
- By default, the right side of the Start menu shows some bigger buttons, sometimes called live tiles. Pinning items to be shown here, gives you an easy-access location for items that you commonly launch on your server, and having the larger buttons is useful when you are controlling your server from a touchscreen laptop or something similar.
You can see all three of these functions in the following screenshot:
Now, that is a breath of fresh air. A simple but useful Start menu, and more importantly one that loads quickly over remote connections such as RDP or Hyper-V consoles.
The Quick Admin Tasks menu
As nice as it is to have a functional Start menu, as a server administrator I still very rarely find myself needing to access the traditional menu for my day-to-day functions. This is because many items that I need to access are quickly available to me inside the quick tasks menu, which opens by simply right-clicking on the Start button. This menu has been available to us since the release of Windows 8, but many IT professionals are still unaware of this functionality. This menu has become an important part of my interaction with Windows Server operating systems, and hopefully it will be for you as well. Right-clicking on the Start button shows us immediate quick links to do things like open the Event Viewer, view the System properties, check Device Manager, and even Shut down or Restart the server. The two most common functions that I call for in this context menu are the Run function and using it to quickly launch a PowerShell prompt. Even better is the ability from this menu to open either a regular user context PowerShell prompt, or an elevated/administrative PowerShell prompt. Using this menu properly saves many mouse clicks and shortens troubleshooting time.
Using the Search function
While the Quick Admin menu hidden behind the Start button is useful for calling common administrative tasks, using the Search function inside the Start menu is a powerful tool for interfacing with literally anything on your Windows Server. Depending on who installed applications and roles to your servers, you may or may not have shortcuts available to launch them inside the Start menu. You also may or may not have Desktop shortcuts, or links to open these programs from the taskbar. I find that it is often difficult to find specific settings that may need to be tweaked in order to make our servers run like we want them to. The Control Panel is slowly being replaced by the newer Settings menu in newer versions of Windows, and sometimes this results in the discovery of particular settings being difficult. All of these troubles are alleviated with the search bar inside the Start menu. By simply clicking on the Start button, or even easier by pressing the Windows key (WinKey) on your keyboard, you can simply start typing the name of whatever program or setting or document that you want to open up. The search bar will search everything on your local server, and present options to you for which application, setting, or even document, to open.
As a most basic example, press WinKey on your keyboard, then type notepad and press the Enter key. You will see that good old Notepad opens right up for us. We never had to navigate anywhere in the Programs folder in order to find and open it. In fact, we never even had to touch the mouse, which is music to the ears for someone like me who loves doing everything he possibly can via the keyboard:
An even better example is to pick something that would be buried fairly deep inside Settings or the Control Panel. How about changing the amount of time before the screen goes to power save and turns itself off? The traditional server admin will open Control Panel (if you can find it), probably navigate to the Appearance and Personalization section because nothing else looks obviously correct, and still not find what they were looking for. After poking around for a few more minutes, they would start to think that Microsoft forgot to add in this setting altogether. But alas, these power settings are simply moved to a new container, and are no longer accessible through Control Panel at all. We will discuss the new Settings screen momentarily in this chapter, but ultimately for the purposes of this example you are currently stuck at the point where you cannot find the setting you want to change. What is a quick solution? Press your WinKey to open the Start menu, and type monitor (or power, or just about anything else that would relate to the setting you are looking for). You see in the list of available options showing in the search menu one called Choose when to turn off the screen. Click on that, and you have found the setting you were looking for all along:
You will also notice that you have many more options on this Search screen than what you were originally searching for. Search has provided me with many different items that I could accomplish, all relating to the word monitor that I typed in. I don't know of a more powerful way to open applications or settings on Windows Server 2019 than using the search bar inside the Start menu. Give it a try today!
Pinning programs to the taskbar
While Windows Server 2019 provides great searching capabilities so that launching hard-to-find applications is very easy, sometimes it's easier to have quick shortcuts for commonly used items to be available with a single click, down in the traditional taskbar. Whether you have sought out a particular application by browsing manually through the Start menu, or have used the Search function to pull up the program that you want, you can simply right-click on the program and choose Pin to taskbar in order to stick a permanent shortcut to that application in the taskbar at the bottom of your screen. Once you have done this, during future logins to your session on the server, your favorite and most-used applications will be waiting for you with a single click. As you can see in the following screenshot, you also have the ability to pin programs to the Start menu, which of course is another useful place from which to launch them regularly:
Many readers will already be very familiar with the process of pinning programs to the taskbar, so let's take it one step further to portray an additional function you may not be aware is available to you when you have applications pinned.
The power of right-clicking
We are all pretty familiar with right-clicking in any given area of a Windows operating system in order to do some more advanced functions. Small context menus displayed upon a right-click have existed since the mouse rolled off the assembly line. We often right-click in order to copy text, copy documents, paste the same, or get into a deeper set of properties for a particular file or folder. Many day-to-day tasks are accomplished with that mouse button. What I want to take a minute to point out is that software makers, Microsoft and otherwise, have been adding even more right-click functionality into application launchers themselves, which makes it even more advantageous to have them close at hand, such as inside the taskbar.
The amount of functionality provided to you when right-clicking on an application in the taskbar differs depending on the application itself. For example, if I were to right-click on Command Prompt, I have options to either open Command Prompt, or to Unpin from taskbar. Very simple stuff. If I right-click again on the smaller menu option for Command Prompt, I have the ability to perform the same functions, but I could also get further into Properties, or Run as administrator. So, I get a little more enhanced functionality the deeper I go:
However, with other programs you will see more results. And, the more you utilize your servers, the more data and options you will start to see in these right-click context menus. Two great examples are Notepad and the Remote Desktop Client. On my server, I have been working in a few text configuration files, and I have been using my server in order to jump into other servers to perform some remote tasks. I have been doing this using the Remote Desktop Client. Now, when I right-click on Notepad listed in my taskbar, I have quick links to the most recent documents that I have worked on:
When right-clicking on my RDP icon, I now have quick links listed right here for the recent servers that I have connected to. I don't know about you, but I RDP into a lot of different servers on a daily basis. Having a link for the Remote Desktop Client in the taskbar automatically keeping track of the most recent servers I have visited, definitely saves me time and mouse clicks as I work through my daily tasks:
These right-click functions have existed for a couple of operating system versions now, so it's not new technology, but it is being expanded upon regularly as new versions of the applications are released. It is also a functionality that I don't witness many server administrators utilizing, but perhaps they should start doing so in order to work more efficiently, which is why we are discussing it here.
Something that is enhanced in the Windows 10 and Server 2019 platforms that is also very useful on a day-to-day basis is the Quick access view that is presented by default when you open File Explorer. We all know and use File Explorer and have for a long time, but typically when you want to get to a particular place on the hard drive or to a specific file, you have many mouse clicks to go through in order to reach your destination. Windows Server 2019's Quick access view immediately shows us both recent and frequent files and folders, which we commonly access from the server. We, as admins, often have to visit the same places on the hard drive and open the same files time and time again. Wouldn't it be great if File Explorer would lump all of those common locations and file links in one place? That is exactly what Quick access does.
You can see in the following screenshot that opening File Explorer gives you quick links to open both frequently accessed folders as well as links to your recent files. A feature like this can be a real time-saver, and regularly making use of these little bits and pieces available to you in order to increase your efficiency, demonstrates to colleagues and those around you that you have a real familiarity and comfort level with this latest round of operating systems:
Using the newer Settings screen
If you work in IT and have been using Windows 10 on a client machine for any period of time, it's a sure bet that you have stumbled across the new Settings interface—perhaps accidentally, as was the case for me, the first time I saw it. I have watched a number of people now bump into the Settings interface for the first time when trying to view or configure Windows Updates. You see, Settings in Windows Server 2019 are just what the name implies, an interface from which you configure various settings within the operating system. What's so hard or confusing about that? Well, we already have a landing platform for all of the settings contained inside Windows that has been around for a zillion years. It's called Control Panel.
The Settings menu inside Windows isn't a brand new idea, but looks and feels quite new when compared to Control Panel. Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2 had a quasi-presence of settings that as far as I know went largely unused by systems administrators. I believe that to be the effect of poor execution as the Settings menu in 2012 was accessed and hidden behind the Charms bar, which most folks have decided was a terrible idea. We will not spend too much time on technology of the past, but the Charms bar in Server 2012 was a menu that presented itself when you swiped your finger in from the right edge of the screen. Yes, you are correct, servers don't usually have touchscreens. Not any that I have ever worked on, anyway. So, the Charms bar also presented when you hovered the mouse up near the top-right of the screen. It was quite difficult to access, yet seemed to show up whenever you didn't want it to, like when you were trying to click on something near the right of the desktop and instead you clicked on something inside the Charms bar that suddenly appeared.
I am only giving you this background information in order to segue into this next idea. Much of the user interface in Windows 10, and therefore, Windows Server 2016 and 2019, can be considered a small step backward from the realm of finger swipes and touch screens. Windows 8 and Server 2012 were so focused on big app buttons and finger swipes that a lot of people got lost in the shuffle. It was so different than what we had ever seen before and difficult to use at an administrative level. Because of feedback received from that release, the graphical interface and user controls, including both the Start menu and the Settings menu in Windows Server 2019, are sort of smack-dab in the middle between Server 2008 and Server 2012. This backwards step was the right one to take, and I have heard nothing but praise so far on the new user interface.
So, getting back to the Settings menu, if you click on your Start button, then click on that little gear button just above the power controls, you will see this new interface:
There are many settings and pieces of the operating system that you can configure in this new Settings menu. Some settings in Windows now only exist in this interface, but many can still be accessed either here or through the traditional Control Panel. The goal seems to be a shift toward all configurations being done through the new menu in future releases, but, for now, we can still administer most setting changes through our traditional methods if we so choose. I mentioned Windows Updates earlier, and that is a good example to look over. Traditionally, we would configure our Windows Update settings via the Control Panel, but they have now been completely migrated over to the new Settings menu in Windows Server 2019. Search Control Panel for Windows Update, and the only result is that you can view currently installed updates. But, if you search the new Settings menu for Windows Update, you'll find it right away.
For the moment, you will have to use a combination of Control Panel and the Settings menu in order to do your work. It gets confusing occasionally. Sometimes, you will even click on something inside the Settings menu, and it will launch a Control Panel window! Try it out. Open up the Settings menu and click on Network & Internet. Click on Ethernet in the left column. Here, you can see the status of your network cards, but you can't change anything, such as changing an IP address. Then, you notice the link for Change adapter options. Oh yeah, that sounds like what I want to do. Click on Change adapter options, and you are taken right into the traditional Network Connections screen with the Control Panel look-and-feel:
Two ways to do the same thing
Potentially confusing as well, until you get used to navigating around in here, is that you can sometimes accomplish the same task in either Control Panel or the Settings menu, but the process that you take in each interface can have a vastly different look and feel. Let's take a look at that firsthand by trying to create a new user account on our server, once via Control Panel, and again via Settings.
Creating a new user through Control Panel
You are probably pretty familiar with this. Open Control Panel and click on User Accounts. Then, click on the User Accounts heading. Now, click on the link to Manage another account. Inside this screen is your option to Add a user account. Click on that and you get the dialog box where you enter a username and password for your new user:
Creating a new user through the Settings menu
Let's take this newer Settings interface for a test drive. Open the Settings menu, and click on Accounts. Now, click on Other users in the left column. There is an option here to Add someone else to this PC; go ahead and click on that:
What in the world is that? Not what I expected, unfortunately. To my surprise, the old Control Panel user account launches a nice, fresh-looking interface from which I can create new user accounts. Accessing user accounts via the newer Settings console launches me into the old Local Users and Groups manager. Technically, from here I could definitely go ahead and create new user accounts, but it seems like there is some sort of a disconnect here. You would naturally think that the new Settings would initiate the newer, nicer screen for adding new user accounts, but we found the opposite to be true.
We walked through this simple example of attempting to perform the same function through two different interfaces to showcase that there are some items which can and must be performed within the new Settings menu context, but there are many functions within Windows that still need to be accomplished through our traditional interfaces. While Control Panel continues to exist, and probably will for a very long time, you should start navigating your way around the Settings menu and figure out what is available inside, so that you can start to shape your ideas for the best combination of both worlds in order to manage your servers effectively.
Just one last thing to point out as we start getting comfortable with the way that the new Settings menus look: many of the settings that we configure in our servers are on/off types of settings. By that I mean we are setting something to either one option or another. Historically, these kinds of configurations were handled by either drop-down menus or by radio buttons. That is normal; that is expected; that is Windows. Now, you will start to see little swipe bars, or sliders, that allow you to switch settings on or off, like a light switch. Anyone who has used the settings interface of any smart phone knows exactly what I am talking about. This user interface behavior has now made its way into the full Windows operating systems, and is probably here to stay. Just to give you an idea of what it looks like inside the context of the new Settings menu, here is a screenshot of the current Windows Update settings page inside the Update & Security settings.
This is a good example of those on/off slider buttons:
Task Manager is a tool that has existed in all Windows operating systems since the first days of the graphical interface, but it has evolved quite a bit over the years. One of the goals for Windows Server 2019 is to be even more useful and reliable than any previous version of Windows Server has been. So, it only makes sense that we finally remove Task Manager altogether, since it simply won't be needed anymore, right?
I'm kidding, of course! While Server 2019 will hopefully prove itself to indeed be the most stable and least needy operating system we have ever seen from Microsoft, Task Manager still exists and will still be needed by server administrators everywhere. If you haven't taken a close look at Task Manager in a while, it has changed significantly over the past few releases.
Task Manager is still typically invoked by either a Ctrl + Alt + Del on your keyboard then clicking on Task Manager, or by right-clicking on the taskbar and then choosing Task Manager. You can also launch Task Manager with the key combination Ctrl + Shift + Esc, or typing taskmgr inside the Run or Search dialog boxes. The first thing you'll notice is that very little information exists in this default view, only a simple list of applications that are currently running. This is a useful interface for forcing an application to close which may be hung up, but not for much else. Go ahead and click on the More details link, and you will start to see the real information provided in this powerful interface.
We immediately notice that the displayed information is more user-friendly than in previous years, with both Apps and Background processes being categorized in a more intuitive way, and multiple instances of the same application being condensed down for easy viewing. This gives a faster overhead view at what is going on with our system, while still giving the ability to expand each application or process to see what individual components or windows are running within the application, such as in the following screenshot:
Make sure to check out the other tabs available inside Task Manager as well. Users will show us a list of currently logged-in users and the amounts of hardware resources that their user sessions are consuming. This is a nice way to identify on a Remote Desktop Session Host server, for example, an individual who might be causing a slowdown on the server. The Details tab is a little bit more traditional view of the Processes tab, splitting out much of the same information but in the older style way we were used to seeing in versions of the operating system long ago. Then, the Services tab is pretty self-explanatory; it shows you the Windows services currently installed on the server, their status, and the ability to start or stop these services as needed, without having to open the Services console separately.
The tab that I skipped over so that I could mention it more specifically here is the Performance tab. This is a pretty powerful one. Inside, you can quickly monitor CPU, memory, and Ethernet utilization. As you can see in the following screenshot, I haven't done a very good job of planning resources on this particular virtual machine, as my CPU is hardly being touched but I am almost out of system memory:
If you are interested in viewing more in-depth data about server performance, there is a link at the bottom of this Task Manager window where you can Open Resource Monitor. Two technologies provided inside Server 2019 for monitoring system status, particularly for hardware performance, are Resource Monitor and Performance Monitor. Definitely open up these tools and start testing them out, as they can provide both troubleshooting information and essential baseline data when you spin up a new server. This baseline can then be compared against future testing data so that you can monitor how new applications or services installed onto a particular server have affected their resource consumption.
Moving back to Task Manager, there is just one other little neat trick I would like to test. Still inside the Performance tab, go ahead and right-click on any particular piece of data that you are interested in. I will right-click on the CPU information near the left side of the window. This opens up a dialog box with a few options, of which I am going to click on Summary view. This condenses the data that was previously taking up about half of my screen real-estate, into a tiny little window, which I can move to the corner of my screen. This is a nice way to keep hardware utilization data on the screen at all times as you navigate through and work on your server so that you can watch for any spikes or increases in resource consumption when making changes to the system:
Task View is a new feature as of Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016, which carries over to Server 2019. It is a similar idea as that of holding down the Alt key and then pressing Tab in order to cycle through the applications that you currently have running. For anyone who has never tried that, go ahead and hold down those two keys on your keyboard right now. Depending on what version of Windows you are running, your screen might look slightly different than this, but, in effect, it's the same information. You can see all of the programs you currently have open, and you can cycle through them from left to right using additional presses of the Tab button. Alternatively, use Alt + Shift + Tab in order to cycle through them in reverse order. When you have many windows open, it is perhaps easier to simply use the mouse to jump to any specific window:
Task View is quite a bit more powerful than this, because it adds the capability of managing multiple full-desktops' worth of windows and applications. For example, if you were working on two different projects on the same server, and each project required you to have many different windows open at the same time, you would start to burn a lot of time switching back and forth between all of your different apps and windows in order to find what you were looking for. Using Task View, you could leave all of your open windows for the first project on your first desktop, and open all of the windows dealing with the second project on a second desktop. Then, with two clicks you can easily switch back and forth between the different desktops, using the Task View button. By default, Task View is the little button down in the taskbar, immediately to the right of the Search magnifying glass near the Start button. Go ahead and click on it now, it looks like this:
You now see a listing of your currently open windows; this looks very similar to the Alt + Tab functionality we looked at earlier. The difference is the little button near the top-left corner that says New desktop. Go ahead and click on that now:
Now, you will see Desktop 1 and Desktop 2 available for you to use. You can click on Desktop 2 and open some new programs, or you can even drag and drop existing windows between different desktops, right on this Task View screen:
Task View is a great way to stay organized and efficient by utilizing multiple desktops on the same server. I suppose it is kind of like running dual monitors, or three or four or more, all from a single physical monitor screen.
This first chapter on the new Windows Server 2019 is all about getting familiar and comfortable navigating around in the interface. There are various ways to interact with Server 2019 and we will discuss many of them throughout this book, but the majority of server administrators will be interfacing with this new operating system through the full graphical interface, using both mouse and keyboard to perform their tasks. If you have worked with previous versions of the Windows Server operating system, then a lot of the tools that you will use to drive this new platform will be the same, or at least similar, to the ones that you have used in the past. New operating systems should always be an evolution of their predecessors, and never all new. I think this was a lesson learned with the release of Windows 8 and Server 2012.
With Server 2019, we find a great compromise between the traditional familiarity of the prior versions of Windows, and the new benefits that come with rounded edges and touch-friendly screens that will be used more and more often as we move toward the future of Windows-based devices. In the next chapter, we will look into installing and managing the
- In Windows Server 2019, how can you launch an elevated PowerShell prompt with two mouse clicks?
- What is the keyboard combination to open this Quick Admin Tasks menu?
- What is the name of Microsoft's cloud service offering?
- What are the two licensing versions of Windows Server 2019?
- How many virtual machines can run on top of a Windows Server 2019 Standard host?
- What installation option for Windows Server 2019 does not have a graphical user interface?
- Which is the correct verbiage for the latest release of Windows Server 2019, Long-Term Servicing Branch (LTSB) or Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC)?
- What is the correct tool from which to change configurations on a Windows Server 2019, Windows Settings or Control Panel?